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Dracula | Study Guide

Bram Stoker

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Dracula | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


How do Van Helsing's comments about Mina in Chapter 14 of Dracula intensify the horror, especially for Victorian readers, of Lucy's actions against the children in Chapters 15 and 16?

Van Helsing praises Mina as a model of Victorian womanhood in Dracula, Chapter 14. Jonathan is blessed to have Mina as his wife because, Van Helsing says, she is a good woman who lives to make others happy and whose life will be a model for her children. Van Helsing describes this model to Jonathan when he says that Mina is "so true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist." Mina is a worthy woman and wife, and will be a worthy mother, because she puts the needs and happiness of others before her own, as was expected of women at this time. Mina proves her worthiness repeatedly over the remaining chapters, ready to sacrifice herself for Jonathan and the others. In light of this model of womanhood, Lucy's actions against the children are particularly horrifying. She's not only a vampire-in-training but a perversion of maternal affection. She should be willing to give her life for children, not take a child's life. Readers see this abominable behavior especially in Chapter 16, when Lucy feeds on a child as she carries it to the tomb. She holds the child against her breast, as a mother might an ailing child, but when the men confront her, she throws the child to the ground, "callous as a devil." These actions cause Seward to see Un-Dead Lucy for what she has become—an abomination of womanhood to be loathed and destroyed.

How do the reactions of Seward, Holmwood, and Morris differ concerning Van Helsing's plans for Lucy's body in Chapter 16 of Dracula?

Seward, the doctor and man of science, wavers in his confidence in Van Helsing. Even after Seward sees Lucy's body, still fresh in the coffin, he tries to come up with explanations other than the one Van Helsing insists on, somewhat nebulously. "Do not press me too hard all at once," Seward begs his teacher. After a good night's sleep, Seward calls Van Helsing's ideas "outrages on common sense" and even wonders whether Van Helsing has somehow tricked him. Unwillingness to accept the irrational sets Seward apart from Holmwood, Morris, and, later, Harker as well. Holmwood's grief for Lucy differs from Seward, who began to grieve her loss long before her death, as a rejected suitor. His reaction to Van Helsing's plans comes from his lover's heart. He's quick to defend Lucy even in death, objecting to Van Helsing's prediction that "the feet you love must walk in paths of flame"—that is, that sweet Lucy will be damned, shut out of heaven, unless Holmwood allows the desecration of her body. Van Helsing's stern words about duty, however, persuade Holmwood at least to look at the evidence in the tomb. Holmwood is a gentleman; he understands duty and pressing need. Morris is the easiest to persuade. The genial Texan wants assurance that Van Helsing hasn't tampered with the corpse, but says, "Your word is all I want." Once he has that word, he's committed to Van Helsing's guidance, both at Lucy's tomb and in later chapters, when he tries to pursue Dracula in his bat form, when he rushes into the crowd of Szgany to reach Dracula, and when he slashes Dracula's heart even as he's dying. Morris exhibits an almost unquestioning loyalty.

After the communion wafer is introduced as a potent weapon in Chapter 16 of Dracula, how is it used from this point to the destruction of Dracula?

Seward, Morris, and Holmwood are taken aback when, at Lucy's tomb, Van Helsing reveals "the Host," a communion wafer he has the church's permission to use. The young men are impressed and respectful because the wafer is the "most sacred of things"—the earthly representation of Christ's sacrificed body. That the vampire (still unnamed) is dangerous, vicious, and clever, the young men already know; Van Helsing's use of the wafer against Un-Dead Lucy means that Dracula is also wholly evil, an enemy of God and God's church. A single communion wafer is small enough to be placed on the tongue, yet this wafer is put to many uses: Mixed with something doughy, crumbs from the wafer seal the tomb against vampire Lucy. Held up, it drives Dracula away. Crumbs mix with the soil in 49 of the 50 boxes of earth from Castle Dracula, rendering them lethal to Dracula. Pressed to Mina's forehead in a failed act of protection, it brands her as polluted by Dracula's blood. More crumbs create a large enough circle on the ground—twice—to protect Mina and Van Helsing by their fire in the Transylvanian forest from the bride-maidens. Even more crumbs sterilize Dracula's grand tomb in his castle so he can never return to it. Not only is the wafer's power too terrible for vampires to withstand, the wafer itself seems hardly to diminish. The wafer takes on miraculous stature, seemingly renewing itself despite its many uses.

How does Mina help Seward and Holmwood in Chapter 17 of Dracula, and how does her usefulness develop her as a representative of Victorian womanhood?

Mina arrives like a ministering angel in the incongruous setting of Seward's asylum; she's kind even to Renfield, who later tries to protect her from Dracula, his master. For Seward, Mina plays two important roles. She acts as his secretary, taking after-the-fact dictation from his cylinders and remedying his ineffective records (he has no way of knowing where each entry starts and stops). In doing so, she also acts as a receptacle for his grief, rejection, and depression. She hears the pain in his voice, but since her transcriptions record only his words, not his emotions and moods, "none other need now hear your heart beat." Mina and Seward bond over their common and deep love of Lucy; she becomes the confidante he didn't know he needed. For Holmwood, Mina acts almost as a mother-figure. His own mother is long gone, and he's just experienced the illness and death of his father and the dramatic events of Lucy's death and second death. Morris has stood loyally by Holmwood through the traumatic events, but he needs a sympathetic woman with whom he can cry without shame. Mina holds him as he sobs "like a wounded child" and imagines holding her own child someday. They, too, bond in their love for Lucy and pledge to be like brother and sister for her sake. Morris thanks Mina: "No one but a woman can help a man when he is in trouble of heart." When she offers to comfort him, too, he commends her "true-hearted kindness" that earns his affection.

In Chapter 17 of Dracula, why does Van Helsing exclude Mina from the action against Dracula, how does she respond, and what is ironic about his decision to exclude her?

Mina has transcribed and organized records, proved herself useful repeatedly, and earned Van Helsing's praise for having been specially (and unusually) created by God gifted with a man's intellect and a woman's heart. She's just sat through their first war council and listened to Van Helsing's long lecture about vampires and Dracula. She stands around the crucifix with the men and pledges herself to the risks of their venture. At that point, Van Helsing dismisses Mina. Henceforth, they'll tell her nothing until Dracula is destroyed. "We are men, and are able to bear," but only because they know that Mina, "our star and our hope," is safely locked in her room. Mina calls this decision a "bitter pill ... to swallow," but she did scream when Morris fired at the bat, so she can say nothing when the men send her to bed, as if she's a child, and tell her to sleep—a command she can disobey safely and privately. Of course, because Van Helsing confines Mina to her room in the asylum, she's vulnerable to Dracula's assault. Not only do the men leave Mina in the asylum, they leave Renfield, Dracula's increasingly anxious devotee, there as well. And he lets his master in.

In Chapter 18 of Dracula, when Renfield begs permission to leave the asylum, what parallels exist among his pleadings, the actions of the Demeter's first mate, and Lucy's dying request?

In Dracula Chapter 18, Renfield's behavior becomes ever more astonishing. He gets rid of his flies, carries on a long conversation with Mina in which he renounces his previous zoophagous belief, and then compliments Van Helsing, Holmwood, Seward, and even Morris, the Texan, revealing that he knows something about each of them. Seward is surprised, and when Renfield's mood suddenly becomes fearful and frantic, Seward's suspicions that his new behaviors are merely a ploy are confirmed. Renfield wants to leave the asylum, even if he must do so under guard. He begs Seward to "save my soul from guilt" and accuses him of not listening, not connecting details to see the coming threat. He's not permitted to explain his urgent request; he can only insist that he is "a sane man fighting for his soul." Renfield, readers later learn, doesn't want to become complicit with Dracula's intentions for Mina. He wants to escape the damnation of alliance with Dracula, just as the Demeter's first mate chose suicide in the sea to avoid Dracula's pollution in Chapter 7. The captain doesn't understand at first and considers the mate mad with guilt, but later, the captain admires the mate's choice: "It is better ... to die like a sailor in blue water no man can object." Lucy, too, understands just before she dies that she is contaminated by Dracula's blood and thus damned. She's already succumbing when, in Chapter 12, she's enraged because Van Helsing won't let her kiss Arthur. The rage passes, and she begs Van Helsing to protect Arthur and, more important, to "give me peace!" At that moment, only Van Helsing knows what's required to release Lucy's soul to heaven, but all three characters—Lucy, the mate, and Renfield—fear a fate that in the novel's context is literally worse than death.

What clues do the men miss in Chapter 19 of Dracula about Mina's well-being, and why do the men fail to note how her experience parallels Lucy's?

When the men return to Carfax, Harker checks on Mina. She's asleep but pale, no doubt, he thinks because of the stressful situation. Harker, who earlier in the novel said spouses should have no secrets, reaffirms his decision to keep details from Mina. Mina sleeps well into the next day and wakes as if from a nightmare. Mina herself, well aware that her husband is hiding information from her, is tired and tearful. Just as Lucy hid her worries from her fiancé, Mina knows that hiding anxiety is "one of the lessons we poor women have to bear." She reports wavering between nervous energy and lethargic dozing; she sees a mist enter the room and then sleeps poorly. Her sleep is so restless and unhelpful that she asks Seward for medicine to help her sleep, which he provides without asking questions. Mina repeats the pattern Lucy followed in Whitby and later at Hillingham. Dracula has already begun his conquest of her body and mind. Perhaps overconfidence prevents the men from missing the clues to Mina's danger, despite Seward's admission that Renfield is somehow connected to Dracula. Equipped with facts about Dracula and vampire lore, armed with holy objects, and convinced the asylum is a safe haven, the men don't entertain the possibility that Mina isn't safe when they leave to do their work. Given that they haven't yet encountered Dracula, she'd have been safer with them. The men feel they're succeeding—finding and sterilizing boxes, ferreting out his other properties, and progressing toward their goal. Mina herself, because of Dracula's ability to hypnotize, doesn't recall his assault(s) and attributes her tiredness to worry and grief. Still, the similarities between Lucy's changes and Mina's likely catch most readers' attention, resulting in yet another example of dramatic irony.

What do Harker's and Seward's comments about working-class men suggest about the assumptions the lawyer and doctor make about workers in Chapter 20 of Dracula?

As Harker investigates, he must deal with the people who helped move Dracula's boxes: He promises to trade beer for Thomas Snelling's information (as he often does during his investigations) but finds, when he arrives, that Snelling "had begun too early on his expected debauch." In other words, not only is the man a drunk, but Harker isn't surprised by his drunkenness. He finds Joseph Smollet to be reliable and smart enough yet is annoyed that Smollet requires not one but two payments to share information. When Smollet sends Harker Sam Bloxam's address, Harker complains because Smollet's spelling is so poor that Harker loses time in finding Bloxam—as if a man with little schooling should write well. Every time he asks a question, he must pay for the answer—a day's wage in one case, he notes, increasingly exasperated. When he finds Bloxam, a man he calls "rough of speech and bearing," he pays yet again but at least gets actionable information. Harker's frustrations with the sloppy workers contrast sharply with his record-keeping, the product, though he seems not to recognize this fact, of long training denied the workers. Seward's opinion of his attendants is similar: they may be decent men, yet they "cannot be trusted unless they are watched." One dozes off during night watch—or so Seward assumes. More likely, Dracula hypnotized the attendant. These views are in keeping with earlier interactions with working-class people. In the novel's early chapters, Harker complains of Szgany workers who serve Dracula because they laugh and won't help him; he doesn't know what motivates them. And in Chapter 12, Dr. Seward chooses not to aid the Westenras' drugged maids. After he rouses them (by slapping them with cold towels), he refuses to let them talk, though they're frantic with worry, but instead scolds and commands them. He's concerned that, as uneducated girls, they'll flee rather than work. And he's surprised that they care about Lucy, with whom, he assumes, they can have no real bond.

How do Mina's, Harker's, and Van Helsing's silences become a burden and a threat in Chapters 19 and 20 of Dracula?

Silence in Chapters 19 and 20 of Dracula cuts characters off from each other, breeds doubt and fear, and results from Dracula's continued power over the characters, though he's absent from these chapters. In general, silence is a continuation of the information sharing problem already present in the novel. Van Helsing and the young people have been more successful since he finally stopped hoarding information. Indeed, the more information Mina integrates into their records, the better they face the threat, so the reversion to silence in these chapters is perplexing. Different concerns motivate it in Van Helsing, Mina, and Harker. Van Helsing cuts Mina off from war councils and incoming information for two reasons: to protect her from nightmares and to keep Dracula from knowing their plans, since his mind and Mina's are connected through exchange of blood. The second reason is sensible, but the first flies in the face of everything he's said about Mina's remarkable (and unfeminine) strength and abilities. He defaults to the Victorian expectation that men protect women. Harker is more troubled about the silence inflicted on Mina. He accepts Van Helsing's reasoning, and his own experiences urge him to shield Mina. Yet he grasps the costs—to Mina, who suffers when excluded, and to their marriage, based on trust and confidence. Harker can't break free of his culture's definition of woman as weak and childlike; he thinks sending Mina to Exeter, where housekeeping will distract her, will help—as if he doesn't know his wife's curious, active mind at all. Mina's silence has different sources. She doesn't yet know that her increasing tendency to keep silent is Dracula's curse working in her as it did in Lucy. And she worries that if she shares her sadness and tears, her fear and sleeplessness, worry may distract Jonathan from his difficult tasks. Yet Mina suffers. Cut off from the daily debriefing, when the men exchange new information and smoke together for comfort, she is more hurt to have lost her husband's confidence after having earned it. Dracula's opponents require the strength of numbers. Silence threatens their objectives.

In Chapter 21 of Dracula, what kind of master is Dracula to Renfield, and how do Dracula's actions shape readers' opinions of Renfield?

When Renfield calls out to his master earlier in the novel, he asks to receive the rewards due a faithful servant. These rewards are likely the blood of animals, which Renfield hopes will stave off age and death. When Dracula finally comes to his servant, as Renfield recalls in Chapter 21, he brings very different rewards: injury, anger, and finally death. Vampires require an invitation to enter a house; Dracula manipulated Renfield's beleaguered mind with promises of blood. Dracula sent the "great big fat flies with steel and sapphire on their wings," and later death's-head moths; he promises to send floods of rats, cats, and dogs, "all red blood, with years of life in it." As Dracula stands at Renfield's window, Renfield sees waves of rats, all his, Dracula says, "if you will fall down and worship me!" Dracula's words echo those of Satan to Christ in Matthew 4, when Satan promises to give Christ rule over the world's kingdoms if Christ will kneel and worship, more evidence that the novel's central conflict is between Satanic evil and Christian righteousness. Renfield, finally in his master's dreadful presence, balks. As soon as Renfield complies, however, the rats vanish. When Dracula returns to Renfield's room later, his servant confronts him angrily, but Dracula merely sneers. When Renfield intuits that Dracula fed on Mina, he tries to stop Dracula from attacking her again. This betrayal earns the thrashing that leaves Renfield's back broken and skull crushed; later, Dracula finishes punishing his wayward servant by killing him. By the novel's end, Quincey Morris is clearly a hero; he dies saving Mina. The other men are heroic as well. But Renfield has a place in the band of heroes. After waiting with such great joy to greet his master, he sees Dracula for the murderer he is and tries, however feebly and pointlessly, to save Mina. He pays with his life.

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